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Guidelines For Reading The Book Review

March 15, 1992

* Skip the review featured in the top spot on the front page if it doesn't deal with either a very famous author or some aspect of pop culture.

* Don't bother with the "Table of Contents." If you can't find your own way through a 10-page, half-sized section you probably should have quit after you read the comics.

* Do not read anything that begins with a reference to Franz Kafka or Jean-Paul Sartre.

* Scan reviews of foreign authors' books for such phrases as:

-- ". . . explores the conflict between his native land's traditional values and the encroaching modern world."

-- ". . . in prose that mirrors the author's emotions, we feel the brunt of her bitterness toward an indifferent, oppressive and sometimes cruel government."

-- ". . . unlike the earlier translation . . ."

-- ". . . a behemoth work that encompasses the span from the Revolution to the last years of the 20th Century."

* If you don't find any, it's OK to go back and read the review.

* When Richard Eder's opening metaphor looks to be better and more clever than anything in the book under review, skip it--the book, not the review.

* Read every biography review; it could be all you'll ever learn about the subject.

* Don't read the review of your favorite writer's latest page-turning blockbuster.

* Do read the advertisement for your favorite writer's latest page-turning blockbuster.

* Skip the boxed poetry selection, unless you've finished the rest of the paper, it's raining out, you're alone, and there's a full pot of coffee on the burner.

* Don't expect to laugh when you read a review of a "witty, insightful, sometimes hilarious novel." Frequently, don't expect to laugh when you read the novel.

* Read all the paperback reviews. They're just as entertaining as the full-length reviews of the hardbacks. Plus, you can feel that glow of self-satisfaction at being faintly familiar with the subject matter--from your having read the original review 12 months ago. Also: These are books you could actually afford to purchase right now.

* Don't read insets featuring a photograph from a book of photographs. The picture is always too intriguing, while the single paragraph of explanatory text can't begin to satisfy.

* Read the one-sentence bio about the reviewer at the end of the piece. He or she is usually much more interesting than the author being reviewed.

* Don't allow yourself to feel good about society when you see a critically acclaimed highbrow author on the Best Seller lists. These are only the Southern California rankings. Check for the national rankings in the parentheses. There probably aren't any for that book.

* Do read the editors' short synopses of the best sellers. These often humorous blurbs tip off how the editors feel about the book--in case you missed the review, or didn't read it for any of the reasons above.

DUKE C. CULLINAN, HUNTINGTON BEACH

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